Student researcher Brian Escobar with his project at the Undergraduate Research Fair

Heeding a call to help others, more students enrolling in HDFS program at PSWS

The HDFS degree offered at Penn State Worthington Scranton is one of the most popular degree programs on campus and enrollment in the program continues to grow, more than 15 years after its inception in 2000.
By: Kelly Frey

The Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) degree offered at Penn State Worthington Scranton is one of the most popular baccalaureate degree programs on campus and enrollment in the program continues to grow, more than 15 years after its inception in 2000.

The reason behind the program’s growth is due, in large part, to the success of its graduates, who usually end up working in a human services industry where they enjoy both professional and personal success and satisfaction.

It should also be noted that these human services agencies, unlike many other sectors of northeast Pennsylvania’s economy, continue to experience high demand for employees and increased need from the area’s population.

“The opportunities available through this degree continue to grow all the time,” said Dr. Janet Melnick, senior instructor and HDFS program coordinator.

“Our students work in all aspects of student services. Every year I am placing students in internships -- from alcohol adult probation and forensics to mental health to working with kids in daycare programs, working with adults in aging, anything in human services from beginning to end,” she stated.

“Our students can also go into careers in career services and school guidance counseling and many of these students usually pursue a master’s degree.”

It takes a strong-minded person to choose a career serving others, and as northeast Pennsylvania’s population continues to grow older, and local economies are more challenged, this role becomes more significant with each passing year.

Many local companies in the area support HDFS graduates from Penn State Worthington Scranton through internships, as well as with employment opportunities after graduation.

The HDFS internship is a rigorous 480-hour commitment during a single semester and is a requirement for students to graduate. Students learn what it is like to work full-time in a position related to their field and many students have succeeded in their careers after serving their internships.

The program at Worthington Scranton emphasizes hands-on learning to prepare students to work with individuals from birth to old age. HDFS graduates become leaders in human services; develop models to prevent and treat social problems; and become advocates for new social policies and programs.

Student testimonial --

The personal success stories of Penn State Worthington Scranton’s HDFS alumni is a great source of pride for both the campus and the HDFS program and showcases what is possible for students pursuing this field.

Robert Fox, a 2005 HDFS graduate, works in a unique position at the NEPA Center for Independent Living. After suffering a massive stroke in 1995, Mr. Fox needed to learn to walk and talk all over again.

“In 1997, through the encouragement of my Office of Vocational Rehabilitation counselor, I decided to attend college. I started out at Lackawanna College, and I chose to study Human Services. I chose that major because it was in my nature, and because I was helped by so many different professionals throughout my recovery. After receiving an associate’s degree from Lackawanna, I started at Worthington Scranton in 2001.”

“I chose Penn State Worthington Scranton because of the reputation of the school and its proximity to my home -- only five minutes away.” 

That choice not only allowed him to pursue a field that was perfect for him, but also exposed him to research in the field, giving him the opportunity to present his work at a professional conference.

“In 2004, I had the opportunity to present study findings at a cross-cultural conference with Dr. Parmindar Parmar, associate professor of HDFS, in Santa Fe, New Mexico [which was] definitely a highlight of my time at the school.”

“The Human Development and Family Studies program was a natural fit,” he explained. “I loved my time at Worthington Scranton, and it easily prepared me for the next step in my career.

Mr. Fox served an internship with the Center for Independent Living, which lead to a professional position upon graduation. He started out as a Peer Mentor/Independent Living Specialist, a position he held for ten10 years.

“The CIL is an interesting agency to work for,” he said. “The majority of our workforce must be persons with disabilities, so it is essentially a culture of disability. We practice what we preach.”

Currently, Fox still works at CIL, teaching pre-employment transition classes to students in the Scranton School District and the Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit 19. He was also appointed to the Pennsylvania Rehabilitation Council by former Governor Tom Corbett and was reassigned to the position by Governor Tom Wolf.

Colleen Brydon Reckless graduated from PSWS in 2004. She is a licensed social worker at Moses Taylor Hospital’s Senior Mental Health Unit.

Brydon Reckless is a great example of the opportunities available to PSWS students who pursue a master’s degree after receiving a strong foundation through the bachelor’s degree program in HDFS.

“I went to Marywood University for my Master of Social Work (MSW). I was hired in May 2008 after completing my master in field placement.

“The HDFS degree at Penn State Worthington Scranton gave me a well-rounded foundation of human services, and the emphasis on family has especially helped me working with families while in the field,” she said. “I feel as though I was more prepared for research studies as a graduate student because I had the research course while I was an HDFS student.”

“The reason I choose PSWS was because of the faculty/student ratio. The smaller class sizes allowed for more one-on-one instruction, she explained.

“In addition, the faculty at PSWS and particularly in HDFS, were engaged with the students and were not only teachers, but also mentors. Dr. Melnick encouraged me to pursue my learning on a graduate level, especially the Master of Social Work Program.”

Brydon Reckless’ internship was with the NHS Human Services Foundation in the Children's Partial Hospitalization Program.

“I provided individual, group, and family therapy with the assistance of the therapist in the school setting. I was hired after completing my internship there as well. I worked at Tri- County Human Services (now NHS) as a therapist until I earned my MSW. At that point, I advanced and obtained a social work position at Moses Taylor Hospital.”

“I was inspired to pursue a career in human services because I’ve always had an innate desire to help others,” she enthused. “Helping others has always made me happy, and continues to do so.”

Social work and human services fields are challenging, but Brydon Reckless finds the field also offers great rewards.

“It is not a field where one is evaluated and judged by his or her income, but by how we have helped each individual person,” she said. “We should feel proud at the end of the day, even if it is a small accomplishment of making someone's life a little less hectic and easier. There is a personal accomplishment knowing that one life has breathed a little bit easier because we (the human service worker) helped.”

Brydon Reckless believes the HDFS program offers a multitude of enriching and satisfying professional opportunities for incoming students.

“I would tell future and prospective students, there is a need for human service workers to help the aging, as the baby boomer generation is aging rapidly. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is watching a person come into our unit in crisis, at a low point and seeing a transformation, watching them improve. It is rewarding to be able to assist them with a discharge plan which will help them on the road to recovery and wellness.”

Andrea Summa has a fascinating job as the assistant director at Youth Advocate Programs (YAP). She graduated from PSWS in the fall of 2010. She started working at YAP as a TSS worker where she worked one-on-one with children with special needs.

“I've been working for the agency for five years. My HDFS degree helped prepare me for these positions and helped me to become successful in graduate school,” Summa said.

“I chose Penn State Worthington Scranton because they had a four-year major in my field that I could easily commute to. There were other schools in the area that I could have chosen, but I felt Penn State had the best reputation and I felt I would get the best education for the money.”

When asked why she chose the HDFS major, Summa explained, “I’ve always enjoyed helping people. I worked in an after-school program when I was in high school and enjoyed working with children. I had a tendency to work well with some children who others saw as having behavioral problems. I've had many kids along the way who have inspired me to join the field.”

“More than the classes themselves, Penn State Worthington Scranton had many great professors that helped my fellow classmates and I prepare for life after graduation,” she said. “I never felt unprepared for graduate school or my job. Most of what was talked about in classes was revisited later in life after Penn State.”

Internships for HDFS majors can be found in a multitude of places and can come from the most unexpected places.

“A great opportunity I had was being fortunate enough to do my internship on campus in the Student Activities department,” Summa said. “Many people didn't understand what they had to do with HDFS, but I spent a lot of time around the student body, was able to sit in on all kinds of meetings with students and the administration, work closely with the student government, and help the campus clubs and organizations, as well as many other things.”

Many say college is what you make of it. The more involved students get, the more they can learn about themselves and the better their college experience.

For Summa, she found student activities was a great calling for her, and she had a wonderful time on campus with all the activities that she participated in.

“Getting involved in campus clubs was very beneficial. I was involved with the PSWS Paranormal Society; I was an orientation leader and THON-Co-Chair. It really opens up your social network and I think it gives students a great sense of purpose and self-esteem.”

Margo Coleman, a 2005 graduate, is currently the social work supervisor at the Gino J. Merli Veterans’ Center in Scranton. Her position requires her to supervise a department including two social workers and a clerk. She acts as department head and works with 36 veterans on a daily basis to ensure they have the best quality of life while living in their home.

“I feel the HDFS major helped me in my career by providing me with an excellent foundation of theory, as well as practice, through the internship program,” she said.

“Being able to participate in the HDFS program also highly prepared me to begin a master level program in social work, especially being prepared for not only theory and practice but also understanding and developing research projects. These skills are invaluable when beginning a career, as it sets up the student to feel comfortable in the work environment,” she stressed.

“I chose the Worthington Scranton Campus because I wanted to be part of the Penn State family while being close to home. I chose HDFS because I was very interested in working with older adults, specifically focusing on geriatrics and nursing home care, and when I researched the HDFS program at Penn State the course curriculum and what the program had to offer was exactly what I needed to achieve my career goal.”

Careers pursued with an HDFS degree focus on human services, and those in these jobs often find they can personally relate to their job.

“I was inspired to go into a service-oriented field for two reasons,” Coleman stated. “When I was about 14-years-old, I got a job at the local nursing home in town, working in the dietary department. Being around the nursing home residents on a daily basis, I knew I wanted to be in a role that was able to advocate and assist those residents on a daily basis.

“My grandmother not only supported me through college but she encouraged me. It wasn't until she was 93 that she ended up needing nursing home care, but I felt if I could work in a service-oriented career working with nursing home residents I could be sure each and every resident was treated the way I wanted my grandmother to be treated.”

Coleman took advantage of opportunities to get involved in clubs and activities related to her career while at PSWS.

The Community Human Service Organization, the precursor to the current Community Service Club on campus, was an experience that afforded her the opportunity to meet many wonderful students and volunteer in the community.

“The research course was another great experience I had,” she said. “If you want to go on to graduate school, research is a must. Not only did the course I took at Penn State Worthington Scranton prepare me leaps and bounds over my fellow graduate peers, but the opportunity I had working as a graduate research assistant put me in the role of being a ‘real life researcher’ and . . . being a published and presented researcher are paramount on a resume.”

Being part of the Lion Ambassadors group and serving as student government president gave her the opportunity to hone her leadership skills, which Coleman says are invaluable when working in the human service profession.

“We have many great students and most of our students go on to get employment,” Melnick said. “With this degree, you are actually employable, which is significant. The majority of our students are employed after graduation.”

Some HDFS grads find their niche and success in higher education working for regional colleges

While most may think an HDFS degree means they will be working in a service or care agency after graduation, some recent alumni of Penn State Worthington Scranton’s Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) program have used their degrees to secure positions at area colleges.

“We encourage students who are interested in research to consider a career in higher education because education is so important,” said Dr. Parminder Parmar, associate professor of HDFS.

One such alumna, Lauren Godowski, first learned about the higher education route when Sandra Feather, PSWS director of enrollment management, spoke to her HDFS class about possible internship opportunities. 

“It sounded like an exciting internship so I went with it. I loved my experience working in the admissions office at Penn State Worthington Scranton. I loved that the job was different from day to day, yet still allowed me to talk with people and provide the counseling skills I learned in HDFS.  I am counseling them on their career path and their higher education plan.”

Godowski chose PSWS because she wanted to stay close to home and earn her Penn State degree. “From taking personality quizzes and meeting with the career service [coordinator], I knew working with people was an interest of mine. That is when I enrolled in HDFS.”

During her time at the campus, she found that her instructors and classmates were a great resource for her and provided a support system. 

“I worked a lot while in college, so I didn’t have much time for sports and activities. The instructors provided a caring environment and got to know every single student,” she said. “Students in the HDFS major also had study groups and work sessions together that were helpful. We all formed a great bond through our time at PSWS.”

Penn State’s HDFS program provides students with a flexible degree that allows them to pursue job opportunities in many different fields. “Students learn the core details about working with people in all different walks of life and circumstances,” Godowski explained.

After her internship, Godowski knew that she wanted to stay in higher education.  After graduating in 2014, she got a job in the admissions office opened at Johnson College.

“I am now the senior enrollment specialist in my office and work hand in hand with the director,” she said, adding, “I believe the skills I learned [at PSWS] helped me move up quickly at the college.”


“Dr. [Janet] Melnick (HDFS program coordinator) works hard to contact many agencies and form relationships in order to provide students with more opportunities for internships.” said Parmar. “This great networking system provides students with many opportunities after graduation through the process of networking.”

Danielle Ross chose Penn State Worthington Scranton because she also wanted to stay close to home, while getting a high quality Penn State education. She now works as a financial aid counselor at Lackawanna College.

“As an incoming student I was undecided (on a major) and didn’t know what career path I wanted to go in. I remember taking one HDFS course in particular that helped solidify what I would obtain my degree in,” she remembered. “I went from a mediocre student taking general education courses to thriving academically and earning a spot on the dean’s list.”

Her involvement on campus also helped her stay connected to a strong social life at PSWS.

“I was introduced to the Lion Ambassador program and I jumped at the opportunity to be involved on campus and interact with more people to enhance not only mine but, my fellow classmates’ educational experience. With that, I was then offered a part-time job within the Office of Student Life where I helped plan events on campus, get students excited about their student experience at Penn State Worthington Scranton and served on a variety of committees.”

As Ross was reaching the end of her college career, she was given opportunities on campus that would lead to her success after graduation.

“I approached Dr. Melnick about going a different route with my internship experience and looked toward higher education to expand my counseling skills. I approached Mrs. Sandra Feather about the prospect of interning with her. Together we developed a plan as to what my responsibilities would be, so that I could grow professionally,” Ross recounted.

“It is because of my HDFS major, campus involvement and the opportunities to excel within my internship that I was able to obtain full-time employment days after graduation.”

Her position at Lackawanna College has helped maintain a great relationship between her current employer and her alma mater.

“Within my role as a Financial Aid Counselor at Lackawanna College, I sit with our prospective and current students and advise them on the importance of choosing the right major and making the most of their educational experience. I also counsel students on overall financial responsibility so that our students have the knowledge needed in order to lead a financially stable life and pay back their student loans.

"I obtained these skills through the HDFS program at Penn State Worthington Scranton.”

A little over one year out of college, Deanna Garber, a 2016 PSWS graduate, is working as an undergraduate admissions counselor at Marywood University.

“I have the opportunity to hold informational sessions with prospective students and their family members and address any questions or concerns they may have about their college search process,” she explained.

Garber believes her HDFS degree, with a minor in psychology from PSWS has definitely helped her in her current position.

“Although higher education may not be the most traditional path for the majority of us HDFS majors, my course load and experiences as an HDFS student at Penn State Worthington Scranton are what make me successful in this position,” she said.

“PSWS was the perfect option for me. You truly do feel part of the Penn State community, something bigger than you because you are [Penn State]. The connections I made with faculty and support staff in that first semester I knew were most likely something I would have never had the privilege of achieving at the [University Park] campus.”

One person in particular who stood out to her during her time at PSWS was her internship supervisor.

“Sandy Feather, the director of enrollment management, is the heart and soul of PSWS,” she enthused. “She bleeds blue and white. I was lucky enough to complete an internship with her and her fierce staff, who introduced me to my passion for higher education."

Garber’s internship provided her with many experiences, but one in particular, stands out for her. “I had the honor of working with our chancellor, Dr. Wafa, and he has forever inspired me to always advocate for a better tomorrow for our communities.”

Perhaps one of the reasons PSWS students in the HDFS program have experienced success in such a variety of areas, is due to the fact that the HDFS department’s faculty engage with, and continue to guide and mentor their students, throughout their college years and beyond.

“We have the ability to maintain an investment in our students,” said Dr. Melissa Labuda, instructor in HDFS.

The relationships formed during students’ time at PSWS stays with the instructors here.

“We keep in touch with our students and welcome them back for lectures and classes, and even to give speeches once they’ve graduated,” Parmar said.

Several HDFS alumni have also returned to campus to participate in the annual Alumni Speed Mentoring Program, hosted by the Career Services and Alumni offices at the campus. 

The event allows current students to network and speak with successful alumni in the majors that they are either enrolled in, or considering enrolling in, about job opportunities, salaries, how to prepare for a career while they are in college and just get some encouragement and helpful advice.